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Tenant Breaking a Lease: What to Do?

  1. Use this guide to understand when breaking a lease is permitted, how to add terms for breaking a lease into your lease agreement and what happens if a tenant breaks a lease.
  2. Know your rights and responsibilities as a landlord
  3. Review the lease with your tenant
  4. Understand the reasons for breaking a lease Include terms for breaking a lease
  5. Require your tenant to give notice in writing When a lease is signed, you and your tenant agree to uphold the obligations set forth in the agreement. Should a tenant break the lease early, it’s important as a landlord to understand the consequences outlined in the lease, as well as the tenant’s circumstances for breaking it. Here are steps to help you deal with a situation where a tenant breaks a lease. Note: This guide is for informational purposes only.
  6. Know your rights and responsibilities as a landlord A tenant breaking a lease early might put you in a tight spot, but you can always seek legal advice. Local attorneys know the ins and outs of the landlord laws in your area and can help you determine the right course of action.
  7. Be sure that you and the tenant read through your lease agreement carefully. Landlords and tenants alike can miss details in the fine print, and it’s in your best interest to be fully informed about your lease as well as local laws.
  8. Review the lease with your tenant. Ensure new tenants know that a lease agreement is legally binding before they sign it. Review and sign it with your tenant. Many tenants know they’re responsible for the entire lease term, but some could assume there’s flexibility.
  9. Reasons for breaking a lease early typically do not include: Loud neighbors Accepting a new job in another area Inconvenient parking Moving in with a partner Understand the reasons for breaking a lease Some places allow tenants to terminate a lease without penalty under certain circumstances. Knowing these circumstances can help you understand the correct action to take should your tenant ask to cut their lease short.
  10. Legal reasons to break a lease in some areas may include: Breaking a lease for military duty Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, a military service member who receives orders to move or deploy may be allowed to break the lease. Typically, service members may be required to provide a landlord with 30 days’ notice in writing and a copy of their military orders. Many states and cities have their own regulations for military service members. If you are unsure of the laws in your area, consult a local attorney. Breaking a lease because of unlivable conditions In some areas, if you have neglected to make needed repairs or otherwise failed to provide a safe and livable property, your tenant may have a good cause for breaking their lease. Check local and state laws and consider speaking with a local attorney. You may also be required to pay moving expenses. Breaking a lease because of domestic violence Some states may allow victims of domestic violence to break a lease without penalty by providing the landlord a written notice.
  11. Check your local and state laws and consult a local attorney if you want to learn more about the rights of victims of domestic violence. Breaking a month-to-month lease If your tenant has month-to-month or at-will tenancy, the amount of notice a tenant is required to provide you before breaking the lease will be subject to local law. Be sure to consult a local attorney to learn more about month-to-month leases in your area. Include terms for breaking a lease Some leases include an early termination clause which outlines what is to occur if the renter ends the lease early. You can decide whether to include such a clause. If you don’t, consider clearly outlining the consequences for breaking a lease in the lease agreement. These could include: Allowing the renter to find a subletter (if you choose) Forfeiting the security deposit Paying the rent balance for the remaining months Subleasing clause The renter may want to find someone to finish out the lease as a sublet. There are pros and cons to subleasing. Consider a subleasing clause that requires the landlord’s written permission before a renter can hand over the property to someone else. It is a good way to allow for a tenant to leave a lease early and ensure that you still have a reliable renter. It’s also possible they’ll find a replacement renter. If all goes well, you’ll sign a new lease with the new renter — a win-win all around. Cost to break a lease A lease typically spells out the financial consequences for a renter leaving early, as permitted by your local laws and regulations. At least one month’s rent is the typical minimum for breaking a lease. In some cases, the tenant may be required to pay the remaining rent for the rest of the term. Be sure that you understand the terms of any lease agreement you are entering into, and if you are unsure as to any specifics consult a local attorney. For example: If four months are left on a lease, the lease agreement could require the departing tenant to pay rent for those months or for as long as the property remains vacant. But many places require you to find a new tenant in a reasonable amount of time, rather than purposely leaving a property open to collect rent from the vacating party. If you are unsure as to whether you are expected to mitigate damages, consult a local attorney.
  12. Require your tenant to give notice in writing Regardless of whether a tenant has a good reason for breaking a lease, ask them to provide a written request to terminate early, detailing their reasons for leaving. Explain to your tenant the course of action for ending the lease early as required by your rental agreement. It’s wise for every landlord to consult a local lawyer to become familiar with any local lease requirements and landlord-tenant laws so they can be prepared if their renter breaks a lease..